How to Avoid Dressing Like a Tourist

As much as I hate being superficial about fashion and appearance, I am offered better opportunities when I look sharp. People tend to treat me with more respect, I get into places I normally wouldn’t and I tend to fly under the radar.

It always surprises me when people don’t believe that I’ve been travelling for one-and-a-half years on a bike. All the time I get comments like “you don’t look like a traveller”, or “you’re not wearing outdoor clothing”, or “wow, you carry a business shirt with you”.

I’ve even been told I was the only long-term traveller who wasn’t a “dirtbag” when staying at a hostel in Krygyzstan.

This is because I don’t want to look like a traveller. I’m prepared to sacrifice some performance from my clothes in order to fit in a bit better and avoid looking too much like a tourist.

These tips are a guide for what types of clothes will keep you looking smart and fly you under the radar…

1. Carry Casual, Understated Clothes

Bring the stuff you would wear at home. Keep your clothes plain, classic, simple, form fitting and with preferably no brand names. Items like long-sleeve travel shirts, a pair of jeans and a nice jumper will give you much more of a casual look.

2. Avoid Technical Gear Where You Can – Especially With Colour

I LOVE colourful technical gear, but there is a time and place for red goretex jackets and khaki zip-off pants. Steer clear from colours or designs and try dark technical gear with simple patterns if you really have to have it. My clothing company list of techwear manufacturers should have you covered with the best understated gear available.

3. Carry A Plain Travel Shirt or Dress Top

Shirts are smart – you never know when you’ll need them. I’ve ended up as a guest in the Chief of Tourism’s office in Korea, at 5 star hotels in Japan and in expensive restaurants with the movers and shakers of society.

I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty uncomfortable in these places when I’m not dressed sharply.

4. Update Your Clothes Every Six Months

When you wear the same clothes day in, day out for six months, they start to look shabby. You’ll find problems such as loss of colour, holes and pilling. That is why I try to organise a fresh set of clothes every six months. It doesn’t have to be brand new stuff, you might be able to get a friend to send you a few items from home or pick up some second-hand clothes in better condition.

5. Keep Your Clothes Clean

It’s fine to wear your clothes for a few days, but after that it needs a wash. If you’re riding through areas without access to a washing machine, hand wash everything in hotels or in public toilets. I often take my clothes into the shower, and wash them on my body.

6. Ride With Baggy Cycling Shorts and Tees on the Bike

There is no better way to stand out than in full lycra. I try to look a bit more casual by wearing plain tees and baggy shorts over my lycra while I ride.

7. Avoid Sporty Attire such as Running Shoes and Sports Pants

Sporty clothes are great for travel, but they make you stick out. I suggest wearing slightly less practical clothes for the sake of looking a bit smarter. Leave the track pants at home and consider wearing jeans/slacks, and pick up a pair of casual shoes with some tread, instead of running shoes. Here is a list of stylish SPD casual shoes to choose from.

My Clothing Pack List

It’s completely dependant on region, but this is what I have right now:

2x travel shirts
2x tees
1x shorts
1x rain jacket
3x undies
3x socks
1x jeans
1x beenie
1x swimming shorts
1x jumper
1x down jacket

The Following Companies Make Expensive Techwear I Like…

To read my complete list of stylish clothing manufacturers – click HERE.

Cycling Specific:

Chrome – rain jackets, jumpers, tees
Giro – rain jackets, softshells, shorts, tees, shirts
Levi’s – jeans, shorts, shirts
Makers and Riders – softshells, pants, jackets, tees
Mission Workshop – rain jackets, jumpers, pants
Outlier – jumpers, shirts, tees, shorts, pants
Rapha – rain jackets, softshells, jackets, shirts, tees, shorts, pants
Swrve – rain jackets, jumpers, tees, shorts, jeans

Other Outdoor / Techwear:

Columbia – rain jackets, shirts, jumpers
Endless Ammo – jackets, shirts, pants
Macpac – down jackets, jumpers
Nau – rain jackets, jumpers, pants, shirts
Nike – fleece jumpers, rain jackets
North Face – rain jackets, shirts, jumpers
Triple Aught Design – jackets, pants, shorts

Super Expensive / Designer:

Aether Apparal
Arc’teryx Veilance
White Mountaineering

Do You Have Any More Tips or Favourite Clothing Companies? Drop a Comment.

  1. But really.. you’re riding a bike. Who gives a shit what you’re wearing? I’ve got better things to worry about personally.

  2. It’s not hard at all to care a little about how you appear. If you don’t “give a shit” about what you wear then more power to you buddy.

  3. When we travel with a bike, we spend just as much time OFF the bike as on it. We meet people, visit family homes, eat at restaurants and check out attractions. As the opening sentence mentions, we are offered better opportunities when we don’t look like cyclists.

    Give it a go sometime, perhaps?

  4. Interesting take, we actually find that in the US where we have toured being dressed in our “tech” cycling gear makes people more willing to talk to us. When we dress normal they seem to avoid talking to us, but when we are obviously tourists they are willing to ask where we are going.

  5. This article confused me – I’m with you as far as not going for the techy, bright sports clothing (but then I’m a non cyclist embarking on a cycling adventure) – and I wear ‘normal’ clothing when riding my bicycle. However, I like to knit and weave my own fabric and I’d be horrified about chucking it all out after 6 months. What about sustainability? ‘Merino’ is a successful advertising campaign by Australia. All pure wool behaves similarly. I’m a fan of Bowmont – a cross between merino and shetland breeds.

  6. Hi Tutleymutley. When I’m wearing the same t-shirts every day for months on a bike tour, they all wear out after six months – there’s not much I can do about that. Handwashing, UV light and the rough nature of bike touring don’t help. Thanks for the heads up on Bowmont! Alee

  7. Ibex. The Shak. Great site, found it today via prospecting on the Traitor Slot. Peace.

  8. Hi Alee
    I totally agree! Nice and clean clothes don’t cost or weight more. On all my short or long tour’s I wearing jeans and long shirts after cycling. Also nice closed shoes are cheap and small. Especially where I live, south east Asia, locals are not dressed like tourists! Trust me it makes a big difference….
    Keep going Alee

  9. dude, please fuck off with this hipster bullshit! i ve been traveling 120.000 in the last 4 years by bike, all in lycra, camopants anything i could find, had a great time (most of the times)! stop try and make money of off something that is so easy as riding a bike!

  10. An often ignored aspect of NOT dressing like a cyclist is personal safety. Especially here in the undeveloped world, technical clothing screams “I got money” to potential muggers or kidnappers. (I live in Venezuela, where 25,000 people are murdered every year and “express kidnappings” are a millionaire industry run from the prisons).

    The opposite would be the one who wears raggedy old clothes, often accompanied with unshaven beard or chaotic hair. This person could be mistaken for a homeless, which doesn’t attract crime but also keeps them out of better accomodation opportunities.

    Maybe it’s my commuting experience, but for me the best option is to wear comfortable clothing that allows you to blend into the crowd when walking off the bike. Also, a personal grooming kit is not bulky, and taking care of ourselves should be as important as caring of our bikes.

  11. I agree! Before my bike trip around Spain, i was focused on this aspect. I took less “practical” clothes so I could look more casual and sharp. I always avoid looking like a dirtbag, I trimmed my beard, i combed, i showered (hostels, water fountains, beaches, rivers, garden hose etc..), I also washed my clothes and my shoes. I didnt bring any flashy accessories that sparked attention.

    This definitely brought more opportunities. I was always welcomed everywhere, and invited in, and I never asked for anything. I could blend in better with the locals without scaring them off (you must be polite and respectful too of course). I met this dirtbag cycling from Czech republic, he smelled awful, dirty bike, awful hair and beard, dirty clothes and plastic bags hanging on his bike etc… Im not one to judge, we talked and he was quite a cool and nice guy, but during our conversation, he mentioned to never been invited to someones house to sleep or eat and other unpleasant situations (and he cycled 3x more distance than me!). Im quite sure it was his appearance that repelled nice acts from locals, he was polite but he didn’t care for himself nor the bike. I think he scared people off, taking care of himself would not cost him, so money wasn’t an excuse.

    My tip: The less clothes you have, the less you have to wash and the less dirty clothes you carry, I say this is more hygienic that carrying lots of clothes.
    I took 2 linen shirts with me (inexpensive ones, about 15-20€), blue cotton pants, 1 t-shirt, 1 warm pullover, socks, neutral nike sneakers, 1 black shorts and 1 cycling shorts to use under the pants/shorts.

    Of course we cyclist have our dirty moments, with mud, sweat, dust, etc, while on the road, but when theres a chance, we should take the time to clean ourselves and look sharp.

    What Alee said in this post is very true, at least in developed countries like in Spain (my experience). I hope more cycle tourers read this post. Being sharp and clean is also a way of showing respect to the ones around you, which can result in good opportunities. This does not mean dressing expensive.


  12. Thanks for the comment, Luis. I am still travelling with smart casual clothes these days, almost all purchased from op-shops (second hand) for next to nothing. I carry a beard trimmer which other travellers like to make fun of, especially when I’ve packed a super minimal bikepacking setup. But I seem to fit in everywhere, and don’t feel like I’m disrespecting anybody. I wouldn’t do it any other way!

  13. Im happy to hear that more people think like this. I just think that if you are a nice/respectable/funny/polite person, then you should up your personality with sharp look. It just makes you more approachable for any occasion, which, as the article clearly says, opens up more opportunities. I really felt this.

  14. Hey Alee,

    I’m digging the chambray-looking short sleeve shirt with pockets in the back (third image from the top – with the mint shorts). Appears a couple more times as well. Do you know who made this?

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